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e21 Debate Primer: What Should We Really Be Asking Candidates?


e21 Debate Primer: What Should We Really Be Asking Candidates?

October 2, 2012

In preparation for the first in a series of Presidential and Vice Presidential debates beginning on October 3, e21 contributors and staff offer the following potential debate questions to both President Obama and Governor Romney in order to educate the electorate on substantive pressing issues and to help voters formulate more informed opinions. Below you’ll find a short guide to what a voter should consider in the coming election:

Charles Blahous, Research Fellow with the Hoover Institution and Senior Research Fellow with the Mercatus Center

As a Social Security and Medicare trustee I would like to know how the two candidates plan to respond to recent publications analyzing the financial challenges facing these two critical programs.

  1. On Social Security: The two public trustees warned earlier this year, “it will become increasingly difficult to avoid adverse effects on current beneficiaries, those close to retirement, and low-income beneficiaries in all birth cohorts if legislative changes (to repair Social Security finances) are delayed much further.” An analysis in the trustees’ report also substantiates that without substantial changes to scheduled benefits, young people entering the workforce this year can expect to pay much more in Social Security taxes than they will ever receive in benefits. Do you agree with the trustees’ finding that Social Security faces an urgent financing problem that must be addressed soon, and what specific reforms would you support to ensure that Social Security serves younger generations as it has served older ones?

  2. On Social Security: For the past two years Social Security’s payroll tax has been reduced and the program given over $200 billion in subsidies from the general government fund to compensate for the uncollected taxes. This policy ended decades of bipartisan commitment to FDR’s original vision that Social Security would be a self-financing system of earned benefits, supported entirely by separate payroll taxes paid by workers. Explain why you supported or opposed turning Social Security into a general-fund-subsidized system. Do you think that Social Security benefits will retain their historical political support now that they substantially exceed what today’s workers and beneficiaries have paid for?

  3. On Medicare: The 2010 health care reform law contained two fiscally significant sets of provisions: one set slowing the growth of Medicare costs, another establishing a substantial expansion of federally-subsidized health care coverage. Analyses from the Congressional Budget Office, the Medicare actuary and a Medicare trustee have all separately established that the health law’s Medicare savings are insufficient both to extend the solvency of Medicare and to finance the new health entitlement without adding to the deficit. In other words, there is a conflict between the three policy goals of extending Medicare solvency, funding a significant health care coverage expansion, and reducing the federal deficit. Which of these three goals would you prioritize, which would you sacrifice, and how would you change the law to achieve your intended goals?

David Malpass, President of Encima Global and Chairman of’s Stop the Fed campaign.

  1. One of the critical choices in the election is on the role and size of the federal government. What’s your vision for the government over the next decade -- do you think it should do more, less or about the same amount? Where specifically would you expand the role of government and where would you like to reduce its role?

  2. The debt limit will be exhausted early in 2013. This risks a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, a possible government shutdown and worries about a technical default on the debt. What will you do about the debt limit? Will you increase it, amend it, replace it with a difference mechanism?

  3. In order to expand its regulatory powers, the EPA has declared that carbon dioxide is poisonous. People produce carbon dioxide when they breathe out, and plants require carbon dioxide to grow. If the EPA ruling is enforced, it will cost thousands, maybe millions of jobs. Do you think carbon dioxide is poisonous? How will you enforce or modify the EPA ruling?

Stephen Goldsmith, Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, two-term former Mayor of Indianapolis and former Deputy Mayor of New York City

  1. Do you believe the federal government has too much or too little control over American families and communities? If you think it is too much what one or two major reforms would you advocate that might change that balance?

  2. One of the issues that affects the debate about the size of government is the balance between the states and Washington. Can you name which programs if any that you would block grant or turnover to the states or voucherize if elected?

James C. Capretta, Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Project Director of

  1. Mr. President, you have said repeatedly that your health care law affects benefits for senior citizens on Medicare. But your own chief actuary for Medicare says that 4 million seniors will lose their private Medicare Advantage plan in coming years because of the $300 billion in cuts to the program. In what way is this not a cut in benefits for seniors?

  2. Mr. President, you held a fiscal responsibility summit in February 2009 during which you pledged that your administration would make the tough choices and yet, during your term, the fiscal outlook has deteriorated rapidly. The Congressional Budget Office now projects that U.S. debt will reach 90 percent of GDP under your policies. Why didn’t your administration tackle these tough issues, especially during the two-years when your party had sizeable majorities in Congress?

Jennifer Pollom, Chief of Staff for e21 and former Appropriations and Budget Counsel for the Senate Republican Policy Committee

  1. After previous deep recessions the economy and labor market had strong recoveries. Why is growth so meager and unemployment so high this time?

  2. What makes economies grow and incomes rise? And where do government spending and taxes fit in your view?

  3. The Doha Round of global trade liberalization has been stalled, and while the rest of the world has been signing hundreds of bilateral and regional free trade agreements, the U.S, has only recently completed the three that President George W. Bush initiated with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. In short, we're lagging behind. What is your program to open markets, foreign and domestic, to international trade?

e21 Partnership

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